The Jewish myth of Lailah, the angel of night is an ancient story that captures the essence of the idea that we already know everything we need to know. It describes how we obtain infinite knowledge before birth and how we start down the path of forgetting that wisdom at the time of birth. It is the tale of how we leave the womb, enter the world and begin learning lessons that are of the world. Mark Nepo calls this “the unlearning of God.” The Jewish myth and Nepo both remind us that it is our mission to begin the process to return to our original knowledge and to unlearn our way back to God.
The word Lailah or Laylah is Hebrew for “night” and is the name given to the angel of the night represented in the Talmud and in other Jewish mythology. The album “Layla” by Derrick and the Dominoes, ala Eric Clapton probably had another night angel in mind when the lyrics for the song of the same name were penned. If you squint your eyes and open your mind, the beautiful album cover could be seen as a representation of the beautiful angel Lailah!
In Jewish mythology it follows that the angel Lailah chooses a soul from the Garden of Eden, joins it with a seed and commands it to enter the embryo. As the “midwife of souls” she watches over the womb as it develops. Lailah places a lighted candle at the head of the unborn infant in the womb so that he or she can see from one end of the world to the other. She teaches the unborn child the entire Torah, as well as the history of his or her soul, showing the rewards and punishments available to the individual.
Right before birth, Lailah extinguishes the light of the candle and as the child emerges the angel lightly strikes its finger to the child’s lip as if to say “Shhhh.” This causes the child to forget what was learned. This “shushing” creates the philtrum, that crease located just above the lip.
Officially, angels are supposed to be sexless but most all other angels have masculine names. Most other angels names end in “el,” God’s name such as Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. There is debate as to whether Lailah is a male or female angel since Lailah is the angel of conception and all her characteristics relate to nurturing.
Jewish scholars note that God decides the fate of the child when it is conceived and leaves one thing undecided, whether it will be righteous or wicked, allowing it to have free will. The story of Lailah implies that knowledge is present and only just forgotten at birth, much like the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious.
Lailah serves as a guardian angel throughout a person’s life and at death and leads the soul into the afterlife. It is our mission in life to recover the light, to remember all the lessons that we have always known and to return to the place of knowledge that reveals our deep past and ultimate destiny.